The Benefits of Offering a Second Chance

Second Chance Policy

By Susan Reed, ASAP

When an employee fails a DOT drug test (DOT alcohol test) or violates their company policy, the repercussions are felt by the employer and the employee. Employers are losing a skilled employee and need to consider the value of keeping that person employed. According to the Society for Human Resources Managers (SHRM), the cost to replace a skilled employee is at minimum one-third of their annual earnings. The employee faces removal from safety-sensitive duty and their livelihood is suddenly put on hold. However, there are alternatives that can benefit both parties by offering the employee a second chance.

Creating a lifestyle change

Offering an employee a second chance after failing a DOT drug test seems unfounded, however, there is an evidence-based practice known as Contingency Management (CM) that can help an employee maintain motivation to stay on track while completing the DOT return-to-duty process (RTD), which some refer to as the SAP Referral Program. Contingency Management is a psychosocial treatment innovation that substance abuse counselors use to motivate clients to stay on course. In a classic sense, CM is a behavior modification strategy to entice an employee to maintain the objectives provided during treatment. This has been equated to a reward and punishment system (Ducharme et al, 2010). In consideration of how this can change the course of a seemingly negative situation, the employer has control over the reward or punishment the employee receives based on their post-treatment behaviors. For example, the reward for the employee is the financial gain they receive from employment, whereas the punishment reaps no reward and may set them back financially and potentially lead up to termination of their employment. In consideration of the time and energy the employee has invested in achieving a position in safety-sensitive duty and the worth it contains for both the employer and employee, this system can create a life changing impact for both parties.

Contingency Management and the Return to Duty Process

When the DOT Return to Duty process was developed, it is unlikely they realized it was based on the premise of contingency management. As the employee enters the process, an evaluation is conducted by a qualified DOT Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) to determine the level of care (LOC) required to help the employee change their behavior. The LOC recommended by the SAP Provider is a key to the level of success the employee achieves. According to Olmstead, Cohen, and Petry (2012), “an important aspect of comprehensive drug abuse treatment is to link patients to appropriate preventive and primary care services” (p. 1463). The LOC the employee receives builds the roadmap they will follow to change their lifestyle to maintain employment.

It is also important to understand the context of the SAP evaluation in the return to duty process. A SAP Provider is required to remove the clinical aspect of the relationship and insert a factual relationship. This is because the SAP’s first priority in determining the level of care (LOC) is public and workplace safety. Removing the clinical aspect of traditional treatment within the confines of the RTD process allows the SAP to apply objectivity in choosing the LOC that is appropriate for the violation. This should be based on longevity of the violation, repetitive behaviors, and other clinical behavioral observations. However, the recommendation is also required to meet the objective of public safety and provide value to the employee. Contingency management provides value to the reward of employment and financial recognition, keeping the employee engaged in the process to reap the reward at the end.

After the employee completes the recommendations, they see the same SAP Provider for a second time to re-evaluate their progress and determine the follow-up plan for observed drug testing to be conducted by the employer. The benefit to the employer is that the employee is still provided incentive to maintain clean DOT drug tests (or DOT alcohol tests) to continue their employment and financial viability. This saves the employer from having to recruit, train, and sustain a new employee saving both time and money.

The return to duty process contains the key components to Contingency Management giving an employee an opportunity to make life changing decisions throughout the process. At the initial stages, the employee is assessed and given recommendations to guide them toward a more positive lifestyle. Research has shown that “CM is effective in increasing treatment retention and abstinence in a variety of populations” (Bride, Abraham, and Roman, 2010, p. 128). As employees gain confidence in their new lifestyle, they are provided additional incentive to stay on track through continued observed drug screens. The SAP Provider sets the unannounced follow-up testing schedule setting the employee up for long-term success through support and aftercare maintenance as part of the CM framework. The return to duty process creates a positive plan with strong accountability using CM to create positive success for the employee and the employer.

Benefits of Offering a Second Chance

Providing a second chance for an employee may not seem beneficial for employers that have responsibilities to ensure the safety of their employees and the public. However, providing a second chance for employees has been proven to:

  • Decrease workplace accidents and workers’ compensation claims
  • Help guard against costly liability exposures
  • Protect productivity
  • Reduce employee turnover
  • Improve employee morale
  • Reduce workplace tardiness and absenteeism
  • Reducing cost to recruit, hire and train new staff

Using CM as a tool within the SAP process provides an employee a visualization on how their life will change by maintaining meaningful employment in their field and the financial incentive of a paycheck. This positive insight builds a foundation for the employee and employer to continue their employment relationship to benefit them both.

ASAP provides Second Chance Programs for DOT and Non-DOT employers with the same nationwide evaluation, case management and testing monitoring services that federally-regulated employers rely upon to return employees safely to work. ASAP programs work with the SAP Providers to enhance the CM process and maintain employee accountability with a success rate of 85% for individuals who successfully complete the program and return to work safely. For assistance with maintaining your drug-free workplace, call 410-366-3899 x607 to speak to an ASAP Advisor today. #WorkSafely


Agovina, T. (2019). To have and to hold. SHRM.
Bride, B., Abraham, A., Roman, P. (2010). Diffusion of Contingency Management and attitudes regarding its effectiveness and acceptability. Substance Abuse, 31:127-135.
Ducharme, L., Knudsen, H., Abraham, A., Roman, P. (2010). Counselor attitudes toward the use of motivational incentives in addiction treatment. American Journal on Addictions, 19:496-503.
Olmstead, T., Cohen, J., and Petry, N. (2012). Health-care service utilization in substance abusers receiving contingency management and standard care treatments. Addiction, 107:1462–1470.


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